Surfing all over Latin America

Having surfed so many different spots on this trip, we thought we’d share some of our experience with our fellow surfers. Please be aware that this list is not exhaustive and circumstances might change with time and/or season. Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comment box below or add any info you might have. We’ll be updating this post as we go. As a reference, we started this trip as advanced beginners, having surfed a couple of years, but only on vacation.
Surfing in Brazil

Surfing is something like the national sport of this country. No one will bat an eyelid if you bring your surfboard on the bus and you will never be charged extra for it. It’s also no problem to get a taxi – anyone will know how to fit your boards in his car. That being said, there’s naturally lots of other people with you in the water. In our experience, Brazilians are super friendly and helpful. They will tell you about good spots, when to surf there and what to watch out for. But it’s also true that they often snake other surfers or drop-in on you.

As opposed to many other countries, no one in the line-up will speak English (except for other tourists, of which there are few or locals from the area around Rio) – Portuguese is your go-to language. In the south of Brazil, you will probably need a wetsuit or at least a longsleeve lycra all year round. As this is a huge country, we didn’t cover it all. We only surfed the South. It’s super easy to find equipment, there’s surfshops everywhere. Just keep in mind that Brazil is an expensive country!

Praia do Rosa

We mostly surfed Praia do Rosa. It’s a pretty crowded, but beautiful beach break with white sand. There’s not only surfers and bodyboarders, but lots of swimmers too, so watch out. If you want less crowd, head to Praia do Luz. Another beautiful sandy beach break with less people. Most likely, there’s other breaks in the vicinity. As we don’t have a car, these are the two spots within walking distance (depending on where you’re staying, it’s easily an hour walk). The town itself is very pretty, with surfshops, supermarkets and lots of bars and restaurants. It is very pricey, though!

Guarda do Embaú

This place is known for its lefthander that can run for quite a while. Beware, the waves are very powerful! We didn’t get to surf it, as it wasn’t really working when we were there. Instead, we surfed the beach break, which was ok, but quite fast as well. Our favorite spot was about a 15-minute walk from the main break to a beautiful and undeveloped bay they call Prainha (little beach). There’s a nice righthand pointbreak that is – for Brazilian standards – not too crowded. The town itself is your typical surf town with lots of restaurants, bars and surfshops.

Florianopolis

This peninsula has so many beaches and surfspots, we don’t even know where to start. There are busses connecting a few beaches, but we would recommend renting a car, as the bus system doesn’t cover everything. Prepare for a few traffic jams, though. There’s lots of cars and few roads…

Let’s start with our favorite, Praia da Joaquina. A powerful, world-class beach break that if you’re lucky won’t be too crowded. The beach itself is very nice too and there’s lots of restaurants around. Another popular spot is Praia Mole. Also a beach break, but the bay is smaller. It was always incredibly crowded when we were there. If you walk along the beach with the ocean on your right, you will get to Praia da Galheta. This is actually a nudist beach, but there are some pretty decent waves at this beach break. Plus –  it’s much less crowded. Watch out for rips! Then there’s Praia da Barra da Lagoa, the beach in front of the town that goes by the same name. It’s a beach break that stretches for kilometers, eventually changing its name to Praia Moçambique and Ponta das Aranhas. While the surf in town is pretty mellow and good for beginners, it gets more challenging along the coast. Praia do Campeche is a bit protected by an island and is therefore great for beginners. It’s also a beach break. If you head to the town of Armação, keep walking along the shore and you’ll get to Praia do Matadeiro. A secluded beach with a river break with some lefthanders. It usually doesn’t get too crowded, unless there’s a contest. And – it’s incredibly beautiful, even if you don’t want to surf!

On a lot of beaches, you can pay a guard to keep an eye on your car. We’d recommend you do that. If you have to leave your car unattended, park it right on the beach where possible, so you can keep an eye on it while surfing.

There are more surfspots on this island, but these are the ones we surfed. Have fun exploring!

São Francisco do Sul

This certainly isn’t your classic tourist destination. But it was one of our favorite places in Brazil. You’ll want to be staying across town, on the other side of the peninsula. This way, you can surf at any of the three beaches. The best-known is probably Praia da Saudade, also known as Prainha. The swell-direction was all wrong when we where there, so we didn’t get to surf it. But it must be pretty awesome. Instead, we surfed at Praia Grande, right across. It’s a loooong beach, but most surfers will be right in the corner, as there’s a nice lefthand pointbreak. Last but not least, there’s the option of heading to the other side to the Molhe. If the swell direction is right, a righthand wave breaks along the beach. It was too small when we were there.

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Praia da Saudade

Juqueí

This stunning little town is a bit of a secret, at least for foreign tourists. It’s a favorite with Paulistas (people from São Paulo) to get away from the city on the weekends. It’s not easy to get to without a car, but it is possible. The town itself has a beautiful, long white-sand beach that is supposed to have nice waves. Unfortunately, there weren’t any when we were there. Instead, with the help of a local, we took the bus to Praia da Juréia (absolutely empty, small bay with a nice beach break) and on another day to Praia de Bora Bora, a very long beach with various peaks.

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No waves in Juqueí

Ubatuba

This town offers dozens of good surf spots, mainly beach breaks. A car or a bicycle with surf racks is handy here, as you might want to check out different spots. Praia Vermelha is a red-sand beach break that drops off quite steep. It’s a rather fast wave and not really for beginners. Depending on swell direction, you might be able to catch a few waves in the small bay of Praia do Tenório. As it is much more protected, the wave is not quite as powerful. Watch out for foam boards flying around! If you can find a ride, Praia Toninhas might be worth checking out. It’s another beach break, but much less crowded than Vermelha.

Ilha Grande

Even if you don’t surf, this island is a paradise. For surfers, even more so. The best known break is Praia de Lopes Mendes. It’s a beautiful beach break that is usually pretty empty, due to its remoteness. If it’s working, it’s for experienced surfers only, as the waves are very powerful! Access is either by boat from town or you hike through the jungle (about 2 hours). This is the only spot we surfed here (when it was small).

Rio de Janeiro

Go ahead and surf your wave at the famous Ipanema beach. It’s an experience you won’t forget about soon. But not because the wave is so awesome, but the setting is. If you want to surf in less polluted and less crowded waters, head out of the city to Praia da Macumba (see below).

Praia da Macumba

If you want to get out of the city and surf asap, this is the place. It’s no more than half an hour away from Rio, with lots of busses connecting it to the big city. There’s Macumba beach itself, a ridiculously beautiful beach with various peaks of varying difficulty (from beginner to experienced). It is crowded, though! Just a five minute ride away, there’s Prainha. A much smaller bay with good, if a bit more challenging waves.

Búzios

Many beaches surround this beautiful peninsula. We only surfed at Praia da Ferradura. It’s your classic beach break with quite cold water. Ask around for info on the other surfspots.

Arraial do Cabo

If you’re staying here, you’ll most likely be surfing at Praia Grande. As the name suggests, this is a veeeery long beach with countless peaks. It actually stretches all the way to the town of Saquarema, which you have probably heard of in connection with the WSL Championship. So you get an idea of how good the waves can be here. Don’t bother walking all the way to Praia Brava. We did, and it was way too wild to surf. Some local fishermen told us that it can only be accessed in summer, when the sea is a bit calmer.

The town itself is pretty ugly, to be honest. But it’s surrounded by some of the most gorgeous beaches we’ve ever seen. If you want to take a day off from surfing, you can take a boat to the nearby Prainhas do Pontal do Atalaia. No waves to surf there, but it is worth the trip!

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Surfing in Colombia

Surfing is not really big in Colombia. So it can be quite hard to find a taxi that is willing to take you and your board(s) along. Busses are usually no problem, though, they store everything underneath and never charged us extra.

Guachalito

The Pacific has some world-class waves that are not (yet) known at all. It is not easy to get there (it involves a plane and various boats), but if you have time, it’s totally worth it. Not only for the surf experience, but also for the untouched beauty of this area. We flew to Nuqui and took a boat to Guachalito. There’s a sweet and obviously empty beach break close to “town” (a handful of houses and hotels). If you feel adventurous, find a few fellow surfers and charter a boat to Pico de Loro. It’s a world-class left-hand pointbreak that can get huge. You will most likely have it to yourselves, as it’s honestly in the middle of nowhere. Supposedly, there’s sharks, but there have never been any incidents. There’s one guy who rents surfboards, but certainly no equipment to buy anywhere nearby.

There’s obviously more surfspots on the Pacific, but unfortunately we didn’t get to discover them. We ran out of money and as there are absolutely no ATMs around, we had to head back to Medellín. Read this (German only, sorry) if you want more info on what to consider before heading off to the Pacific coast.

Palomino

This one shouldn’t be your top priority if all you want to do is surf. But the place is awesome and you will most likely end up staying longer than planned. There are waves (not always) at the main beach in front of all the hostels. It’s a beach break with pretty fast lefts and rights that break on a rather shallow sand bottom. It’s easy to break your board here. You can also take a bus along the coast towards Tayrona National Park and surf at one of many other spots in the area. There’s two spots in the park itself as well. If you have some swell, any of these spots can be pretty good! Just ask around for directions.

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Surfing in Panama

Traveling with your surfboard in Panama is a bit of a hassle. Even for short distances, you have to change busses (mostly minibusses) a lot of times and usually walk between the stops. Every bus driver will try to charge extra for your board, so a lot of haggling is involved. Spanish helps. That being said, there’s a few pretty amazing surfspots and you will be able to rent boards in the better known spots (Bocas, Santa Catalina, Venao).

El Palmar

This one is pretty close to the capital (about 1,5 hours) and a good option if you don’t have much time or are on a long layover. There’s various beach breaks (mostly rock bottom) around here and a few options to sleep. Close-by San Carlos has the restaurants and supermarkets.

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Playa Venao

A beautiful bay dominated by Israelis with lots of acommodation options and a few restaurants (rather expensive). There’s only one tiny store in town, which is also over-priced. If you want to do some grocery shopping, do so before you get here in Pedasí (there’s two busses a day leaving for Pedasí). The beach offers various sand bottom breaks, so you won’t have to fight for waves. The waves range from nice beginner waves to pretty steep and fast, depending on swell direction and where you surf. Wind usually picks up in the afternoon, surf is much better in the morning. Waves close-out if the swell is bigger than 6ft.

Santa Catalina

You can choose to either stay in the village, where you have the shops and a few restaurants, or you head out towards the beach. From the hotels there, it’s a 15-30 minutes walk to town, but you can usually hitch a ride. We opted to stay at the ‘Surfers Paradise’ out of town. It’s pretty basic, but has a good vibe and a communal kitchen. And the best view! You can watch the famous pointbreak La Punta from the porch. The right-hand waves break over a reef and lots of rocks, so watch out. The paddle-out is also a bit of a workout. Generally, this is a spot for the more experienced surfers. It can hold any size swell. Locals are friendly, but they won’t miss a good wave just because you’re in their way… If this sounds too scary, there’s also a pretty sweet sand bottom beach break close-by. It’s about a 7-minutes walk from the hostel, on the other side of the river.

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La Punta

Bocas del Toro

Choose your island in this Caribbean paradise. We decided to stay on the main island Colón, where you have lots of hostels, bars and restaurants. If you stay in town, you can easily catch a boat to any of the various surf spots. On the main island, there’s Paki Point (reefbreak), Paunch (also known as Punch, reefbreak) and Bluff (shorebreak). Bluff is best left to Pros (or kamikazes), but the other two breaks are not exactly beginner-friendly either. The friendliest wave we surfed was on the neighbouring island Carenero. You can take a water taxi there. It’s called Black Rock and breaks just off the island. Careful when paddling out during low-tide, the reef is very shallow in some places. On the same island, you will find the better-known Carenero pointbreak. We didn’t surf this lefthander. But it’s also a spot for the more experienced surfer and breaks over a shallow reef. Last but not least, you can head to the island of Bastimentos, which is a bit further away. We took a water taxi to the town and walked to the other side. If you don’t mind paying more, you can take a taxi all the way to Wizard Beach or Red Frog beach. If you walk, don’t take any valuables and head back home before it gets dark. There have been lots of robberies on the trail. In February 2017, a tourist woman was murdered. Ever since, there’s police patrolling the beach regularly. As for Wizard beach, the scenery is beautiful and it’s nice to have a sand bottom for a change. There’s absolutely no crowd, you’ll probably be surfing by yourself. It does get pretty messed up by the wind that picks up towards noon, though. We didn’t surf Red Frog Beach.

Water taxis to other islands usually cost around 1-5 USD.

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Playa Bluff

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Surfing in Costa Rica

It’s no secret that surfing in Costa Rica is pretty awesome. Which brings the advantage that it’s very easy to find equipment pretty much everywhere, be it to rent or buy. And the disadvantage that you’ll usually be sharing your waves with lots of other people and the fact that bus drivers figured out it’s a good business for them as well and you’ll always be paying extra to bring along your board.

Puerto Viejo

It’s the Caribbean and you just never know what you’ll get. We surfed the beach break at Playa Cocles, but it was no fun. The swell was too big and it wouldn’t hold well. On smaller days, this surely is a great beach to play around. It’s beautiful, too! Puerto Viejos most famous spot certainly is Salsa Brava, a rightand reefbreak. While we were there, we only saw one surfer out there. It was definetely out of our league. If you’re only just beginning to surf, the black-sand beach Playa Negra on the other side of town might be an option. It’s very protected, but a small fun wave sometimes runs past the shipwreck. You can also take a bus (or a bicycle) and head to Playa Punta Uva. It’s a very pretty beach with a right-hand pointbreak.

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Mini waves at Playa Negra

Pavones

Pavones is legendary! In this town, it’s all about surfing and there really is nothing else to do. We surfed the famous lefthand pointbreak only twice. When the massive swell hit, we were happy just watching. You’ve probably heard enough stories about this wave, so I’ll spare you too much information. Let’s just say – if this wave gets going, you’ll have the longest ride of your life! If the main break is too big for you, there’s another lefthand pointbreak further into the bay. You can walk to Sawmills (about 20 minutes). It’s quite a bit smaller, but still offers some nice long rides. The bottom is rocky, as in Pavones. If you don’t surf, hopefully you like to watch surfers. It’s quite a spectacle and when a big swell hits, the beach will be filled with onlookers and photographers.

In town, you’ll find places to rent boards, as well as two quite big supermarkets for your grocery shopping.

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Puerto Jiménez

On the other side of the Golfo Dulce is the fishing village of Puerto Jiménez. It’s not a surfer town. Tourists usually come here for whale watching or to head to the Corcovado National Park. But from here, you can head to some pretty awesome surfspots. Especially if you’ve had enough of the lefthanders. Here, it’s all about righthanders. It’s much easier if you have your own car, as the spots are quite a bit away from town. There is a bus leaving for Carate twice a day, it can drop you off on the way. One of our all-time favorites is Playa Pan Dulce. First of all, it must be the most picturesque bay we’ve ever seen, with scarlet macaws flying over our heads and monkeys howling (and supposedly the ocassional shark). And then there’s this perfect wave! It’s a right-hand pointbreak and we had it all to ourselves in the early morning. But don’t make the same mistake as us and forget all about time. We missed the bus home and had to walk quite a bit, until we could hitch a ride. There’s also Matapalo beach further along the coast, which is supposed to be very good. But we didn’t surf it.

Dominical

This one is a nice stop along the coast on your way up north. It has a fun beach break where we always had a peak almost to ourselves. That might be only true for rainy season, we don’t know. It is a pretty powerful wave and does get really difficult with bigger swells. If you want an easier wave, you can walk (or take a taxi) to neighbouring Dominicalito. It’s much more beginner-friendly.

There’s lots of board rentals and the occasional surf shop in Dominical.

Santa Teresa

Everyone knows (and loves) Santa Teresa. It’s developed a lot over the years and there’s a sheer endless variety of hotels and restaurants to choose from. It’s also become a bit of a party hotspot. But that doesn’t change the fact that you will have a great beach break right out front. We were glad we were here during low season and enjoyed a pretty uncrowded line-up most days. We were staying at ‘Cuesta Arriba’ (which we can totally recommend, by the way) and always surfed at this end of the beach. The wave there is a bit more challenging and faster than in town, but it’s doable if you’re not a beginner. The wave closes out with swells bigger than 6ft. Needless to say that it’s super easy to buy, sell and rent surfboards and other equipment here.

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Surfing in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is pretty famous for its good waves, but there’s still some almost empty breaks to be discovered, especially in the North of the country. In the South, where lots of tourists travel to surf (area around San Juan del Sur and Popoyo), you will always pay extra on the chicken bus to bring along your surfboard. They can usually strap it on the roof. As bus fares are really cheap, the extra charge usually doesn’t hurt. Where there’s waves, you will usually find a place to rent boards. The further away from the classic tourist trail you are, the more you will pay for it, though. In the surf towns, it’s easy to find any kind of equipment or a shaper to fix dings.

San Juan del Sur

There’s not really any surf in town, unless there’s a huge swell rolling your way. But even then, bear in mind that this is a fishing village and lanchas will always have the right of way. That being said, there’s lots of awesome spots nearby. Any hotel or shop will offer cheap transport. The town is known as a bit of a party place. We were there in low-season and it was chill. There’s a huge selection of hostels, restaurants, stores, etc.
The best known spot is Playa Maderas. It’s also the most crowded and did feel a bit dangerous sometimes, as there were lots of boards flying around uncontrolled. You might want to consider staying at the hostel there at the beach, so you can avoid the crowds and head in for an early morning sesh. Because it is considered the best break in the area.
Another option is heading to Playa Hermosa, our favorite in the area. A beautiful, huge white-sand beach with lots of breaks. You will probably share your wave with only a handful of people, or you might have it to yourself. The transport will include the entrance to the beach and the right to relax in the hotel’s hammocks and use of their facilities. There’s also lockers to put away your stuff – you just have to leave a deposit for the key.
We also went to Playa Remanso, another beach break. It’s a smaller bay than Hermosa and surfers therefore concentrate in the same two spots. It’s still not very crowded though. There’s a few bars/restaurants for refreshments. Don’t leave anything at the beach, our gallon of water and very used flip flops were stolen.
There is more spots, but we only went to these three.

Popoyo

We were not staying in the town of Popoyo, but on the other side of the river in Guasacate. There’s a good selection of hotels and hostels and a few restaurants, as well as two tiny stores for grocery. The beach itself is actually awesome for surfing. It’s the only break around here with sand bottom. If you cross the river (5min walk), there’s the famous Popoyo wave, which is actually two different waves. We didn’t surf it, as we didn’t have a good swell and the best waves were always right in front of our hotel at the beach break. A bit further along the beach (another 10 minutes), you will get to Beginner’s bay. A beautiful setting with impressive rocks and a very mellow wave. There’s a left-hand pointbreak that can get pretty massive with a good-size swell, but the wave is still very friendly. As you might guess, it’s a good spot for beginners, but also fun for intermediates. It’s rock bottom. If you keep walking, there’s more spots, but we never surfed them.

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Beginner’s Bay

Playa Gigante

Playa Gigante is a pretty sleepy fishing village with increasing surf tourism. There’s not much else to do here but surf. There’s one hostel that rents surfboards. Other than that, you won’t find any equipment here. You can surf in the bay where the village is (careful with the lanchas, fishermen actually head out to fish here ;-)). It’s a beach- and reefbreak that is more exposed to the right and gets smaller to the left. If you wanna avoid the boats or there’s no waves, you can also walk ten minutes to the next bay, called Playa Amarillo. This beach break with a few rocks gets waves very consistently and you usually don’t have a lot of crowd.
Further along the coast (a 45 minutes walk) is the infamous Playa Colorado. We didn’t surf there, it was just too far a walk with our surfboards. But it is doable. It’s easier to reach during low-tide, so you can cross over to the next bay over the rocks by the sea and don’t have to do a detour through the woods.

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Playa Amarillo

Las Peñitas

Only a 20-minute ride from Leon, Las Peñitas is a good option if you don’t have much time and just wanna head out for a quick surf. There’s a few hostels and restaurants, but not much else. You can probably rent a surfboard in one of the hostels, not sure though. There’s no equipment to buy. There’s a lefthander right in front of the restaurant ‚Playa Roca‘ and there’s another beach break if you head left, that is less protected and holds quite a lot of swell. There’s rocks strewn around, so I’d recommend checking the spot out during low-tide before you head in.

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Jiquilillo

This one is really off the beaten path. It’s a fishing village not yet very accustomed to tourism, especially not foreigners. You might want to dress a bit more conservatively when walking through town. Jiquilillo has an almost endless black sand beach with various breaks. We usually surfed right in front of our hotel ‚Rancho Esperanza‘. A few times we headed over to where (the very friendly) locals surfed, in the harbor. The wave can get quite hollow and we even saw some small barrels. But in the morning and evening, there’s lots of boat traffic, so you really have to watch out for the lanchas. If the swell is bigger than 5ft, the waves close-out.

Rancho Esperanza has a selection of boards to rent, not many shortboards though. Needless to say, there’s no surf shops or any place to buy equipment.

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Surfing in El Salvador

There’s not as much surf tourism in El Salvador as in Nicaragua or Costa Rica, but it’s on the rise. Locals living in beach towns often surf, or even more often they bodyboard. And they really know how to ride them, the tricks they do will amaze you. Traveling with your boards is no big deal. You might get stared at, but they usually stuff your boards in between some seats in the chicken bus without much discussion and we never had to pay extra. The better known spots are pretty crowded, but there’s still lots of lesser-known and empty peaks. We wouldn’t recommend the beaches we visited for anything else but surfing. They’re not very pretty and often very rocky. If there’s sand, it’s black. But the West has beautiful beaches. Buying equipment or renting boards is possible in the famous places (Tunco and Zonte), but outside it will be a bit of a challenge.

El Tunco

We only surfed the Sunzal wave, as it worked best while we were there. It’s a right-hand point break and a mellow wave. It does get pretty crowded with everything from bodyboarders to shortboarders to longboarders to SUPs. And you do have a few over-motivated surfers who tend to snake or drop-in. The wave works at all tides. The short walk there from El Tunco along the beach is a bit of a hassle, as you have to balance on the big pebbles/rocks. There’s also a beach break in walking distance and La Bocana, an A-frame. The later is dominated by locals, but if you respect the rules, you’re fine surfing there (that’s what we were told).

El Zonte

In the bay, you have a nice right-hand point break with an inner and an outer peak. Generally speaking, the surf level in El Zonte is a bit more advanced than in Tunco. The bottom is rocky and if you surf during low-tide, which is possible, you gotta watch out for rocks. It’s less crowded than Sunzal, but still pretty busy. There’s also an A-frame by the river-mouth and a beach break. Because we had a lot of swell, the beach break wasn’t really working and the A-frame was insanely big.

Mizata

There’s a nice beach break with various peaks along the long black-sand beach. There’s a few rocks strewn in between, but they’re usually of no concern. The line-up was always empty when we were there. The wave is not the easiest, as it’s quite fast. There’s also considerable backwash. In front of the Hotel ‚The Last Resort‘ is another peak that offers longer rides, usually lefthanders. Careful with the rocks here. And finally there’s a right-hand point break in front of the ‚Mizata Point Resort‘. Beware of the rocks. Locals are very friendly and if you respect the surf rules, you won’t have any problems.

As far as we know, there’s no board rentals and certainly no shops to buy equipment. This is a very small town with not (yet) many options to stay and/or eat.

 

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